Fuel can be managed better

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Erratic fuel deliveries coupled with a tight supply have created fuel queues that must have a serious economic impact on many businesses.

Deliveries and collections schedules frequently have to be rearranged, staff are missing because “we are in a fuel queue”, and for owners of service stations the frequent breakdown of orderly queuing and the threats often received can make this business a nightmare.

We have suggested in the past that the Government should seriously think about reintroducing rationing, using electronic ration cards issued when vehicles are licensed. There has been little or no enthusiasm from the business sectors for this idea. The queues this week should generate a rethink.

Rationing does not have to be all or nothing. It could encompass a small segment of the market, larger segments or the whole market.

The obvious most urgent requirement is to ensure that businesses remain operating and operating efficiently. Some major companies are able to arrange pre-paid bulk deliveries, although these are not always possible. Smaller businesses have to rely on normal service stations, and often need to use just one vehicle, in a fleet or say three, and so have legitimate requirements for an oil drum, although this generates anger and abuse in queues.

But there could be a better way. A small minority of service stations could volunteer to become suppliers to businesses. Companies would register their trucks or other heavy equipment with one of these.

To prevent abuse, and there will always be someone who wants to cheat, it would be a requirement that each registered vehicle was equipped with one of those devices that measure fuel use. They were designed to help fleet owners detect theft of fuel by drivers or mechanics are show whether fuel use is constant or whether there is a sudden instant big use, a reading generated when fuel is siphoned or drained from a tank. The assigned service station would check this device before dispensing more fuel and if there was evidence that fuel had been siphoned or drained the registration and so guaranteed supply would be cancelled.

This system might also work for the kombi fleet. Public transport is a legitimate business but ownership is highly dispersed and the owners and the operators (who are the drivers) are not the same people. But if a foolproof way could be generated to stop diversion of kombi fuels, then a practical system would have many advantages.  And those fuel consumption devices would at least be a starting point to that monitoring.

Most businesses would find their staff at work on time, bus fares could be kept within reason, cutting transport costs, and with a bit of imagination it might be possible to link adherence to road rules with the right to access special supplies, although some might think we are dreaming of an impossible perfect world.

But again it is something that needs to be discussed. And getting kombis out of fuel queues would have other advantages that might appeal to the general public. Kombi drivers can co-operate when it is in their interest. Queue observers have noticed that a pure kombi fuel queue is very orderly.

Service station owners might now have to be more active in managing their customers. Most queues have been orderly but sometimes the order breaks down and in recent days we have seen multi-lane queuing and sometimes just a scrum of cars with the drivers least concerned about dents pushing the hardest.

In previous shortages owners would issue numbered cards and insist that card holders queued single file. Despite the gloomy statements sometimes made, supplies are far better this time, so the 2008 queue of 60 people getting 20 litres each no longer applies. But it should be possible for a service station owner facing a potential panic rush to issue numbers good for say 50 litres, and continuously monitoring how many fall under that limit so others with larger cards can get full tanks, and insist on an orderly queue. Drivers would probably accept this, and even the most reluctant might prefer to be told at 8am they will miss supplies than queue for three hours to find the service station closes as they reach the front.

More generally, as our sister daily The Herald reported yesterday, there appear to be anomalies in fuel consumption. We back calls for a full investigation and auditing of supplies and suspect that by better management right along the supply and payment chain we could get to the stage rather quickly whereby fuel queues become a minor nuisance, not a way of life. But this would almost certainly require more steps than just a mere audit.

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